A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 26

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CHAPTER 17: Part Two
Ashtavakra said: 
17:11 – The liberated one is always found abiding in the self and is pure in heart; they live free from all desires, under all conditions.

If you are the self, then how can you abide in the self you already are?  Technically, you can’t.  So in this verse, “the liberated one” is referring to a mind that has self-knowledge (or a mind that lacks self-ignorance, whichever way you want to look at it). And a mind like that can ‘abide’ in the self inasmuch as it can dwell on the implications of what it means to be the self.  In other words, when a mind with self-knowledge is presented with problematic situations or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, it can remember that it’s still okay because at its essence, it’s always the unchanging, limitless self. 

In Vedanta, heart and mind aren’t two different things, seeing as what’s normally regarded as heart is a  collection of feelings that only appear in the mind.  So is a mind with self-knowledge always pure?  Since the author doesn’t give a precise definition of the word “pure” it’s hard to tell exactly what he means.  Assuming he’s using the word “pure” in the common sense of being free of all negative thoughts and emotions, then no, a mind with self-knowledge is never completely pure.  Why?  Because the mind is part and parcel of the relative world and nothing in the relative world, being made up of parts that continuously change, can be fully purified or made to remain one way all of the time.  

For the same reason, a mind with self-knowledge can never be free of desires, at least not in the literal sense.  Desire will continue to arise naturally.  However, there is a certain level of choice that the mind can exercise when confronted with those desires.  It can ‘abide’ in the self, evaluating whether or not to indulge a desire in light of the fact that as the self, there’s nothing to be gained by doing so.    

But if you follow that line of reasoning to its natural conclusion, there’s also nothing to lose by pursuing a desire, seeing as the self is unaffected either way.  Furthermore, while I agree that a mind free of desire is preferable to a mind full of desire, wanting the mind to be free of desire is, ironically, just another desire.  So in order to have a mind free of desire, you still have to have the desire to ‘abide’ in the implications of self-knowledge in order to get rid of the desire.  That means the only way to really be free of all desires is to recognize that as the self, you’re free under all conditions, even the condition of desire being present in the mind.         

17:12 – Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, taking, speaking and walking, the great-souled one, free from all efforts and non-efforts, is verily emancipated.

When you realize you’re the self, you see clearly that you’re not the ego, the part of the mind that claims, “I’m doing this” or “I’m not doing that.”  In that way you’re free from all “efforts and non-efforts,” despite the continued thoughts and actions of the mind-body.  

17:13 – The liberated one neither slanders nor praises, neither rejoices nor is angry, neither gives nor takes. They are free from attachment to all objects.

As the self, the liberated one neither slanders nor praises etc. As the self, they’re free from all attachment.  Their body-mind may still slander or praise, rejoice or get angry, give or take.  Or have attachment to objects, even if it’s just an attachment for having peace in the mind. This isn’t a problem, however, because they know that they’re not the body-mind nor affected by it.         

17:14 – The great-souled one is not perturbed and remains self-poised at the sight of a woman (or man) full of love as well as of approaching death. They are indeed liberated.

To react the same way to the approach of death as to the sight of a loved one would truly be an admirable feat.  But to whom would the credit for this feat belong?  To you, the self, or to the mind?  To the mind.  So in this verse the “great-souled one” isn’t referring directly to you, the self, but a poised mind, firmly rooted in the knowledge, “As the self, I’m completely fine in all circumstances.” Because as the self you’re neither perturbed nor calm, poised nor flustered, liberated nor bound.  

Keeping in view the distinction between the relative level of the mind and the ‘absolute’ level of the self while reading these verses is crucial in order to avoid the confusion of identifying with the mind instead of the self.  If verses like this give you a constructive example of the type of mind you want to strive for, then great.  I honestly think that’s their purpose.  But don’t get confused, thinking that you’re more or less enlightened because of the condition of your mind.  Being enlightened is knowing you’re the self.  That means there’s nothing the mind can do (or not do) to make you more (or less) than the self you already are.         

17:15 – The steady one who sees the same everywhere, sees no difference between happiness and misery, man and woman, and prosperity and adversity.

The “steady one” isn’t you, the self, but a mind that knows that ultimately everything is the same as the self.  At times when the mind is experiencing something it doesn’t like, this knowledge is helpful because it helps to reduce your aversion to the experience, seeing as there’s no point in being averse to your own self.  But the knowledge only applies on a cognitive level.  Because it’s not as if you’d just as soon drink a hot, delicious cup of coffee thrown as have it thrown in your face, simply because at the ultimate level, both experiences are the self.     

17:16 – In the wise one whose worldly life is exhausted and who has transcended the limitations of human nature, there is neither compassion nor any desire to harm, neither humility nor insolence, neither wonder nor mental disturbance.

To be human is to be a body-mind.  How then can a body-mind, even a “wise one,” transcend its own human nature by simply behaving in a different way?  It can’t because it would still be a body-mind, just a body-mind behaving in a different way than before.  So the only way to truly transcend the limitations of human nature is to realize that as the self, you’re not human in the first place.       

17:17 – The liberated one neither abhors the objects of the senses nor craves for them.  Ever with a detached mind he experiences them as they come.

When the “liberated one”—the mind with self-knowledge—understands what it means to be the self, it can have less attraction and aversion for sense objects.  It can become more detached to experience in general.  But to be truly free from those things is simply to appreciate that as the self, you’re never attached to, or detached from, sense objects in the first place. 

17:18 – The wise one of vacant mind knows not the conflict of contemplation and non-contemplation, good and evil. He abides as it were in the absolute state.

If your mind is vacant—literally shunya, meaning “void” or “empty”—then there’s obviously not going to be anything going on, not contemplation or non-contemplation, not recognition of good or evil.  So I can’t argue with that statement.  But I will argue that being a “wise one”—meaning one with self-knowledge—doesn’t mean your mind is non-functioning, especially considering that enlightenment is knowing you’re the self, not an empty mind (I’ll elaborate on this point further in Verse 20). 

“Absolute state” is a translation of the word Sanskrit word kaivalya.  As I mentioned in the commentary to verse 11:6, this term has different definitions, depending on the school of Indian Philosophy that’s using it.  Literally, it means “aloofness, aloneness, isolation” (See “A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy” by John Grimes).  In this sense it describes the nature of the self, seeing as the self is aloof (impersonal, detached from the world) and non-dual (alone or isolated by default, because there’s nothing other than the self).  So to say that the mind of one with self-knowledge abides in the knowledge that the self is kaivalya is accurate.  It’s inaccurate, however, to describe kaivalya as a state.  Because kaivalya is what the self is, it’s nature, not a state or condition it achieves. 

17:19 – Devoid of the feeling of “I” and “mine”, knowing for certain that nothing is, and with all their inner desires set at rest, the one with knowledge does not act though they may be acting.

Being crucial to the functioning of the mind, the ego can’t disappear unless the mind itself isn’t present, such as when you’re unconscious or asleep.  This means a mind endowed with self-knowledge will surely still have an ego, the sense of “I” and “mine.”  The difference is that the one who knows they’re the self doesn’t identify with the ego, thinking it belongs to them or defines them.  In that way, the “one with knowledge” doesn’t act, at least not as the self, even when the body-mind does. 

The “one with knowledge” knows for certain that “nothing is” insofar as they understand that the body-mind—as well as the world it inhabits—are nothing but insubstantial illusions whose only reality is the self.       

17:20 – An indescribable state is attained by the wise one whose mind has melted away, its functions having ceased to operate, and who is free from delusion, dreaming or dullness.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t interpret “indescribable state” metaphorically to mean “being the self” since the self isn’t a state.  It just is.  Nor can I say that having self-knowledge causes the mind to melt away and cease functioning.  If that were the case, there would be no enlightened people or teachers of enlightenment, because you can’t live, let alone teach, without a mind.  You’d just be a vegetable.  And just being a vegetable isn’t enlightenment, otherwise you’d get enlightenment by going into a coma. Or by going to sleep.   

So I have to take “indescribable state” to mean that point in deep meditation when the mind truly does stop or disappear, at least temporarily.  At that time, since there’s no mind, there’s no delusion etc.  In a way, this is an “indescribable state” seeing as there’s no mental activity available to differentiate it from other mental states.  Having the mind stop, despite not being enlightenment, is actually a very helpful pointer towards enlightenment.  How so?  Because what you normally think of as yourself is the mind.  So when it disappears and you still exist, it indicates that you’re something other than the mind.  At first, you may not understand that that ‘something’ is the self.  But when you do, that’s enlightenment, not a blank mind. 

This concludes Chapter 17.  From here, Chapters 18, 19 and 20 remain, with Chapter 18—which contains 100 verses—being the largest of the entire text.  I’ll be saving the commentary on those chapters for a book version of the Ashtavakra Samhita I hope to release at the end of the year.  All of the previous installments of the commentary will be compiled, revised and expanded for the book.  I’ll also be adding an introduction and possibly, a few essays. 

I’ll continue to add new material to the site while I work on the book.  As always, feel free to write in and ask any questions you may have about this text or Vedanta in general. 

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 16

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Ashtavakra said:
9:1 – What is done and what is not done, as well as the pairs of opposites—when do they cease and for whom? Knowing thus, be indifferent to everything, even renunciation.

Action is defined according to the opposites of good and bad.  And resolving to avoid bad actions is renunciation.  Renouncing bad actions is essential for purifying the mind in order to prepare it for self-knowledge but upon gaining self-knowledge, renunciation loses its meaning.  Why?  Because you see that duality—such as good and evil—is not real.  And furthermore, you understand that as consciousness-existence you’re not the doer.  So you can’t perform any action, good or bad, let alone renounce any action. 

When you know you’re consciousness-existence, does that mean the body-mind you formerly identified with can abandon all notions of decent behavior and start robbing, killing or just being a self-centered jerk?  No.  Because as the verse astutely points out, doership and the pairs of opposites never cease.  They still totally apply to the body-mind, assuming it wants to avoid being an inmate or an outcast from society. 

If you contend that doership and duality cease for you, consciousness-existence, you’d be wrong.  Why?  Because they never applied to you in the first place.            

9:2 – One is fortunate whose desire for life, enjoyment, and learning have been extinguished by observing the ways of the world.

When you observe the world and truly see that everything in it is impermanent, it’s to your benefit to become dispassionate, meaning objective.  Because if everything is impermanent attachment is illogical and unnecessary, assuming you enjoy peace of mind.  But dispassion isn’t cold-hearted stoicism, it’s simply appreciating things while they last and for what they’re worth, never expecting them to give something they can never give e.g. permanent happiness.        

9:3 – Everything is indeed impermanent, spoiled by the threefold affliction of being worthless, contemptible and fit for rejection.  Understand this clearly and you come to peace. 

This verse reinforces the last and it employs a bit of hyperbole.  Are friends and family really “worthless, contemptible and for rejection”?  Well, maybe some people’s family and friends are but really, the meaning here is the same as before: Be clear that nothing in the world lasts; accept that fact and be at peace.  

9:4 – At what time or at what age do the pairs of opposites not exist?  Disregard them and you will attain perfection.

Duality is a problem for people of every age.  But the good news is that anyone at any time can disregard it by seeing that it’s an illusion.  Then you ‘attain’ perfection by seeing that you’re the ever-perfect, undivided self.  Technically, you can’t attain this status because you are, and always have been, the self.   

9:5 – After observing the diverse beliefs of the great seers, saints and yogis, attain equanimity by becoming completely indifferent to them. 

Every religion and philosophy has different views about your true nature.  And since those views often conflict with one another, they can’t all be right.  So at some point you have to investigate the ones that appeal to you and with luck, you’ll find out who you really are.  Once you’ve seen that for yourself, the so-called spiritual quest is over and you can rest easy.  And then the innumerable beliefs of various teachings which formerly seemed bewildering become completely immaterial.  Because what does someone’s opinion matter in the face of firsthand experience and understanding?          

9:6 – A teacher is one who has gained clear knowledge that they are consciousness.  Through indifference, equanimity and reasoning, they help others escape self-ignorance (samsara).

Knowing that you’re consciousness-existence is the most important prerequisite for being a teacher (because how can you teach what you don’t know?).  Your personal behavior, even though it can be an inspiring example to students, is secondary.  So don’t be concerned if your mind isn’t perfectly indifferent and equanimous—after all, self-knowledge is knowing you aren’t the mind in any way.  But if your mind lacks the ability to reason, meaning the ability to employ reason based on the logic of Vedanta, you’re dead in the water (at least as a teacher).  In that case, shut down your website, disband your satsang and quietly enjoy your enlightenment—otherwise you’ll just confuse people.          

9:7 – Look upon all objects as modifications of the elements and abide in your true nature (consciousness-existence) and you will at once be free from bondage.

Anything that changes is unreal.  If all objects—both mental and physical—are simply modifications of the elements (matter), they’re unreal and can’t be you.  Furthermore, as matter they’re non-conscious—another reason they can’t be you.  Once you see that you’re not an unreal, non-conscious object (specifically the body-mind) you’re free from bondage because you know that as consciousness-existence, you were never bound.   

9:8 – Your vasanas alone are samsara. Knowing this, renounce them all. The renunciation of your vasanas is the renunciation of samsara.  Be established [in your true nature] regardless of external circumstances. 

Your vasanas are your personal collection of desires and mental inclinations.  Samsara, in a general sense, is the world.  But more specifically it means the everyday cycle of identifying with objects (specifically the body-mind) and the suffering caused by trying to gain or keep desired objects while avoiding or getting rid of undesired objects.  If you think about it, what’s your personal world comprised of other than what you want, what you don’t want and how you’re inclined to go about getting what you want or avoiding what you don’t want?  In that way, your vasanas are samsara. 

Knowing this, it seems reasonable to try and escape samsara by renouncing or destroying the vasanas.   But this method won’t work.  Because even though you can achieve a significant reduction in desire and a drastic change in your personal inclinations, unless the body-mind is dead, there’s no end to your wants and mental conditioning.  So there’s no end to your samsara.  A different approach is needed. 

Enter Vedanta, which says that to escape the samsara of your vasanas, you simply need to realize that they aren’t your vasanas in the first placeThe mind, the container of all desires and inclinations, is an unreal, transient object.  And it’s not you, consciousness-existence, which is ever-free of the mind and all its vasanas.  So to end samsara, stop identifying with the mind. 

To be clear, working on the mind to rid it of excessive desire and negative inclinations is a very constructive endeavor, one that is an essential preparatory step on the spiritual path.  But it doesn’t equate to self-knowledge which is dis-identification with the mind in general.    

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 15

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In Vedanta, the definition of bondage is self-ignorance i.e. believing that you’re the body-mind when you’re actually consciousness-existence.  Liberation, therefore, is 1) The clear understanding that you’re consciousness-existence and 2) The subsequent dis-identification with the body-mind and its various states.  This means from the absolute viewpoint that liberation has absolutely nothing to do with the state of your mind.  Whether it’s angry, desirous, attached and full of egoism or happy, unattached and free of desire and egoism is inconsequential because as consciousness-existence you’re always untouched by the mind.

But on a relative level, a mind burdened with excessive desire, attachment, egoism and negative emotions can be conditionally defined as ‘bondage’ insofar as it’s uncomfortable and generally detrimental to conducting your day-to-day affairs.  In that regard, it’s sensible to be aware of those states of mind in order to manage them for maximum efficiency and mental peace. 

Of course, it could be argued that the mind doesn’t need to be managed because it doesn’t affect you, consciousness-existence.  And that would be completely true.  But if you extend that logic, it could also be argued that if you fall down the stairs and break your leg there’s no need to seek treatment because the body doesn’t affect you either.  Or that there’s no need to go to work or tend to the welfare of your family and friends because it doesn’t matter to you, consciousness-existence.  And that would also be completely true. 

But in the same way that you’d prefer to have a healthy body, keep your job and maintain good relationships with your family and friends, it’s preferable to take care of your mind to ensure that it too remains healthy and happy.  You just do it because it makes sense to do it.  And you do it knowing that you’re always okay, whether or not your efforts bear fruit. 

If, however, you’re satisfied with your mind being miserable, then so be it—it’s your choice.  It doesn’t affect the fact that you’re unchanging consciousness-existence one single bit. 

In this chapter, Ashtavakra discusses what bondage and liberation are from the relative level.  Those interested in mental well-being take note.  For all of you hardcore enlightened beings out there who don’t care, feel free to skip to the next chapter 🙂        

Ashtavakra said:
8:1 – Bondage is when the mind desires anything or grieves at anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything.
8:2 – Liberation is when the mind does not desire or grieve or reject or feel happy or angry.
8:3 – It is bondage when the mind is attached to any sense experience. It is liberation when the mind is unattached to all sense experiences.
8:4 – When there is “I,” there is bondage.  But when there is no “I,” there is liberation.  Knowing this, easily refrain from accepting or rejecting anything.

The gist of what he’s saying is that it pays to be objective and dispassionate about your everyday life.  Desire never solved anyone’s problems because it always leads to more desire.  Grief over loss, at least excessive grief, isn’t warranted because it’s the nature of things to be impermanent—losing them is inevitable.  Acceptance and happiness or anger and rejection aren’t necessary because the value assigned to objects to determine whether they should be accepted, rejected etc. is completely relative.  What one person deems worthy of rejection might just as soon be accepted by someone else.  Furthermore, all objects are unreal, and nothing unreal deserves to be the source of real desire, grief, acceptance, rejection, happiness or anger.     

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 12

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Ashtavakra said:
4:1 – The one who is steadfast in self-knowledge enjoys playing the game of life, unlike the deluded beasts of burden who are trapped in it.

An enlightened person can lead a regular life just like an unenlightened person.  But the difference is that an enlightened person’s understanding of life, and their relationship to it, stands in stark contrast to that of the unenlightened person.  Here the unenlightened person is unflatteringly—and I might add, disrespectfully—characterized as a beast of burden.  The beast of burden metaphor only applies insofar as the unenlightened person is ‘trapped’ by the belief that they are an individual body-mind.  And by extension they are ‘burdened’ by the weight of performing actions and reaping results in the world.  But the enlightened person who understands that they are the action-less self and that the body-mind and universe are unreal, can ‘play’ the game of life, never taking it too seriously and enjoying it for whatever it is worth. 

Ultimately, describing the behavior of an enlightened person is unproductive because an enlightened person knows that as consciousness-existence they are not, nor have they ever been, a person.  As such, whether the body-mind performs action as sport or under the delusion of being a doer and enjoyer never has, and never will, apply to them.      

4:2 – The yogi does not take pleasure in attaining steadfast self-knowledge even though the gods, wishing to attain that state, feel afflicted.   

The Vedic religion—in which Vedanta has its roots—asserts that you can become a god through religious rituals and strenuous discipline.  While this may sound alluring, the drawback is that once the merit of the deeds that earned you godhood is exhausted, you return to being a normal person.  Or worse, you drop down a couple of rungs on the evolutionary ladder and become an animal or a plant.  This is why Janaka says that even the gods, despite their exalted position, wish for something more i.e. self-knowledge.  

While I doubt these religious myths are literally true, they do point to something true—that anything acquired by action has a beginning and an end.  This means that accomplishing something, whether incredible like becoming a god, or mundane like getting hired for a new job, is never a permanent solution to the problem of suffering. 

Self-knowledge, however, is a permanent solution to the problem of suffering because it’s a matter of understanding rather than action—understanding that as the eternal, unchanging self you are never subject to suffering, whether you be a god, a man, a dog or a houseplant.    

4:3 – Knowing that (consciousness-existence), one is not touched by good or evil, just as the sky is not touched by smoke, even though it appears to be.

The empty space we refer to as the sky seems to be tainted when smoke appears in it.  But in reality, the space remains the same.  Similarly, consciousness-existence seems to be affected by the good and evil deeds of the body-mind.  But in truth, it is never affected because the body-mind and the actions it performs are illusory.  Knowing that, you are never touched by good or evil.           

4:4 – Who can prevent the wise one who knows the universe to be the self alone from acting spontaneously?

The wise one knows that as the self, they are action-less and free of the body-mind.  So from the absolute viewpoint, whether the actions of the body-mind are spontaneous or otherwise is irrelevant.  But from the empirical viewpoint, when one understands that the universe is really the changeless self they’re not obligated to act with a motivation in mind because they know that nothing can really be accomplished.     

4:5 – Out of all beings in the universe, the wise one alone is capable of renouncing desire and aversion.

The wise one doesn’t need to renounce anything because as the self, states of mind such as desire and aversion don’t apply to them.  But taking into account the body-mind from the empirical viewpoint, those with self-knowledge are better equipped than anyone else to renounce desire and aversion for two reasons. 1) They know that neither desirable nor undesirable objects are real and that there’s no reason to compulsively desire or avoid something unreal.  2) They know that as non-dual changeless consciousness-existence, a desirable object can’t add anything to them and an undesirable object can’t take anything away.   

4:6 – Rare is the one who knows the lord, the self, the one without a second.  That one feels no fear anywhere.   

When you know you’re one without a second, there’s nothing to fear because everything is yourself.  Alternately, there’s no reason for fear because anything feared is an object and all objects are unreal.  In the same way that no one needs to fear a dream object when, upon waking it’s seen to be unreal, no one needs to fear anything in the world when, upon self-realization it’s known to be an illusion. 

In this verse Janaka refers to the self as the lord (isvara) but then declares that the self is one without a second.  This shows that the title of “lord” is only figurative because the self could only be a lord in the literal sense if there were something other than itself to lord over. 

A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 6

This week, Janaka continues his statement of self-knowledge from PART 5.

Janaka said:
2:6 – Just as crystallized sugar is completely permeated by the sweetness of the sugarcane from which it is produced, so the universe produced in me is completely permeated by me. 

The true nature of something is that which is essential to its existence, something that, if taken away, the thing itself would cease to be.  For instance, if it were possible to remove heat from fire or wetness from water they would no longer exist, because heat and wetness are the essence of fire and water.

On the other hand, an incidental quality of something is that which can be removed or changed while the nature of the thing itself remains unchanged.  If the color of fire changes from red to blue, the fact that it’s hot does not. This means the color of the fire—as opposed to heat, its essential nature—is merely an incidental quality.  Similarly, the form of water can change from a wave, to mist to rain but the wetness of the water does not; the form of the water is an incidental quality while the wetness of the water is its true nature.   

That doesn’t mean an incidental quality is separate from the thing it is removed from.  The red, yellow or blue color of a flame is completely permeated by the heat of the fire from which it comes.  And there is no wave—from a ripple in a pond to a tsunami in the ocean—that is in any way separate from the wetness of the water from which it is comprised. Knowing this relationship between the essential nature of something and its incidental qualities, what Janaka says in this verse can be understood.  Just as crystallized sugar is permeated by sweetness, the essential nature of sugar cane, so the universe is pervaded by consciousness/existence, the essential nature of the self.  But unlike sugarcane, which undergoes a real transformation to become sugar—meaning after the sugar is produced, the sugarcane is gone—the self never transforms into objects.  It only appears to do so, in the same way that water appears to become a wave.

2:7 – The world appears because of self-ignorance and disappears owing to self-knowledge, just as a snake appears from non-cognition of a rope and disappears when the rope is recognized. 

You only see the world when you don’t understand that it’s the self, the same way that you only see a snake when you don’t realize it’s a rope.  And just as you can no longer see a snake when you become aware of the existence of the rope, you can no longer see the world when you have knowledge of the self.  However, the literal meaning of the word “see” only applies to the example of the snake and the rope, because seeing a snake where there is only a rope is a perceptual error that disappears when the rope is known.  But in the case of mistaking the self to be the world, even after you realize it is the self, the ‘snake’ of the world does not go away.  You continue to perceive and experience the world exactly the same way as someone who does not know they are the self; the only difference is that you no longer believe the world is real.          

2:8 – Light is my very nature and I am never other than that.  I alone shine, even when the universe appears. 

As previously mentioned (1:18), light is a metaphor for consciousness because it is the invariable factor in every experience that ‘illuminates’ all objects by making it possible for them to be known.  Nothing in the universe has the ability to ‘shine’ in this way, not even apparently luminous objects such as the sun.  Not even its light can ‘illumine’ anything—meaning make something known—without you, consciousness, being present. 

2:9 – The universe appears in me, conceived through ignorance, just as silver appears in mother of pearl, as a snake appears in a rope or water appears in the desert (as a mirage). 

As Janaka unequivocally states, the only reason the universe appears is ignorance.  Although it seen it never actually exists, just as silver, a snake or water, although seen, never exist in mother of pearl, a rope or a mirage.  From this fact it follows that there is no need to waste time trying to understand how or why the universe manifests because it never does.  It only seems to when you do not know that it is really just you, consciousness/existence. 

Even if that makes sense, you may be tempted to inquire into the nature of ignorance or perhaps to whom it belongs.  But this too is unproductive, because the nature of self-ignorance, to state the obvious, is not knowing you are the self.  And if you do not know you are the self, then the self-ignorance belongs to you.  At that point the only pertinent thing to do is to get rid of the ignorance, not sit around pondering what ignorance is. Luckily, Vedanta gives you the tools to do this.  Ironically, when inquiry guided by the logic of Vedanta removes ignorance, it clearly demonstrates that you, the self, were never ignorant in the first place; it only seemed that way when you thought you were the body-mind.       

2:10 – Just as a clay pot is dissolved into clay, a wave is dissolved into water and a gold bracelet is dissolved into gold, so the universe which has emanated from me will dissolve into me.

There are two ways in which a clay pot, a wave and a gold bracelet can be dissolved into clay, water and gold, respectively.  The first way is literal: the form of the clay pot, the wave or the gold bracelet are physically destroyed, leaving behind the clay, water or gold from which they are composed. The second way is figurative: the clay pot, wave or gold bracelet are ‘dissolved’ into clay, water or gold through understanding that a clay pot is nothing but clay, a wave is only water and a gold bracelet is none other than gold.  In the same way, the universe is ‘dissolved’ into you, consciousness/existence, by the knowledge that it is consciousness/existence alone. 

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